John the Baptist and Our Advent Conversion, 2nd Sunday of Advent (B), December 8, 2002

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Second Sunday of Advent, Year B
December 8, 2002
Is. 40: 1-5, 9-11; Mark 1:1-8

1) Every Advent, the Church sends us four helpers to prepare to make the effort to welcome Christ, to welcome him in the past in Bethlehem, to joyously embrace him in the future when he comes at the end of time, and to cling to him in the present in the Eucharist, in His Word, and throughout the day. Beginning next week, we’ll start to be prepared by the third and fourth figures, who will be Mary and Joseph. But the first two figures are Isaiah and St. John the Baptist.

2) Today we will focus on St. John the Baptist, whom Isaiah had prophesied in the first reading as the voice crying out in the wilderness. “John was clothed in camel’s hair… He fed on locusts and wild honey.” He’s not exactly the kind of character that we’d like to meet socially or invite into our homes. Today we’d call someone like that a drop-out, or a druggie, perhaps; certainly a food nut. Can someone so seemingly bizarre to our modern sensibilities have anything to say to us at the beginning of the 21st century? Let’s look at what he did say. His message has two parts.

3) The Gospel tells us, first, that he was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” In order to prepare the way for the Lord to enter, we first have to clear away all the obstacles that sin puts in the path between us and the Lord. The Church gives us St. John the Baptist at the beginning of Advent because if we’re going to be properly prepared to receive the Lord, we have to repent and receive the forgiveness of our sins. To repent means to convert, to turn around completely. To change the way we are.

4) There’s a tradition here in our parish to do thorough house cleanings during this time of year to make the house clean and presentable to welcome all of our visitors. Some people even take several days off of work to do this. We all need to do the same thing with our bodies and souls, which are called to be temples of the Holy Spirit. We’re called to do a thorough house cleaning there. We need to get rid of all the garbage, to make a thorough examination of conscience, and make a firm purpose of amendment to rid our lives of sin.

5) The second thing that St. John the Baptist proclaimed was “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” We’re not capable on our own of fixing our problems. We’re not capable on our own of leaving all the darkness in our lives behind and coming to the Light. The Good News that John the Baptist preached was the coming of one who is powerful, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. He was announcing that Jesus would give us God’s own help so that we might indeed turn completely away from sin and welcome him and his love into our lives. After we’ve seen the need to repent of our sins, John says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” And that Lamb of God gives us His Holy Spirit, so that we might live in God’s presence. As I said above, St. Paul says that we’re called to be “temples of the Holy Spirit,” where God himself dwells. This is the incredible reality.

6) To do this, we have no better model than the Blessed Mother. Today, December 8, is the feast of her Immaculate Conception, but because it falls on a Sunday in Advent, we celebrate it tomorrow. She was preserved free from sin from the first moment of her conception, so that she who would become the temple of God for nine months when she carried the Son of God in her womb, would be completely spotless, so that no sin would touch Jesus the Lord. Then she lived that reality, as a temple of the Holy Spirit, remaining free from sin for the rest of her life and into eternity. Unlike the Blessed Mother, we’re not immaculately conceived. We were born in sin, but thanks to our baptism in water and the Holy Spirit, we were set free. Like the Blessed Mother, we’re called to live in that sinless relationship with the Lord all our days, and when we receive the same Lord Jesus inside, to receive him completely set free from sin. Unlike the Blessed mother, however, we haven’t remained sinless in our choices. We have sinned since the time we were set free from sin by baptism. Therefore, in order to be a fitting temple to receive the Lord inside, to be a fitting temple of the Holy Spirit, we must go to the Lord, Jesus, confess our sins and receive his forgiveness.

7) Both John the Baptist and the Blessed Mother are all telling us very clearly this weekend that there’s something we need to do. Each of us needs to go to confession this Advent. This is when we clean out our insides and make them spotless and immaculate to receive the Lord as a guest. The penance service for the parish will be Thursday, December 19, here, but you know there’s always the opportunity to go on Saturdays as well or to the services at the other parishes in the city.

8 ) “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” So begins todays Gospel. So begins the Gospel of St. Mark. At the beginning, the foundation of the Good News, is the realization that the Father sent the Son into the world to save us from our sins and from what our sins lead to, our death, our cutting ourselves off from God. The greatest news ever heard is that God died to forgive us our sins, but we have to admit that we’re sinners, examine our consciences, confess our sins to a priest he has himself ordained with the power to forgive in his name, and receive God’s comforting, loving mercy. This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.